How Weaponizing Identity Politics Ended the Vietnam War

Image by Duncan Kidd.

I’ll tell you a secret, dearest motherfuckers, if you promise to tell everyone else. The two-party system is nothing but a great big fucking distraction. When it comes down to the big money issues like war and peace, there is virtually zero difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, and both of these thieving cliques of corporate sluts use the decidedly divisive masquerade of identity politics to obscure their own malignant identities as mirror vessels of the same apocalyptic war machine.

The Republicans rail furiously against the epic scourge of trangenderism, trying to convince fine folks like you that fine freaks like me are a pack of mincing sexual predators chomping at the bit to chop your son’s dicks off. Meanwhile, the Democrats work the other side of the room, selling themselves as the only hope broken trannies like me have of not being burned at the stake for walking into the wrong bathroom. And while we’re all busy tearing each other’s throats out over race and gender, we all get fucked in the ass by the bipartisan military-industrial complex when they quadruple the deficit to sell bunker busters to fascist lunatics in Ukraine.

These yuppie pricks are fucking hustling us over our few differences but somehow, it’s people like me and my comrades in the ghetto who get the lion’s share of the blame for this travesty. It’s increasingly hip among principled anti-imperialists on both the left and the right to be openly dismissive if not downright derisive towards identity politics and part of me can’t blame them. I get sick and tired of trigger-happy cretins like the Clintons using my people like a rainbow-colored human shield while they carpet bomb the planet in the name of humanitarian interventionism. It’s almost enough to make even me want to bash me.

But that doesn’t mean that things like trans rights and racial equity don’t matter, it just means that they are convenient fodder for both parties to take advantage of because people like me don’t have an industrial complex to contend with, but this is precisely why imperialism should matter to marginalized people like me and why marginalized people like me should matter to anti-imperialists. We are the only people in this country fucked enough to be downright Third World. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that being Queer and/or Black was virtually indistinguishable from being an anti-imperialist.

People in this country seem to suffer under the fevered delusion that the Vietnam War just sort of ended, that suddenly after sacrificing some 58,000 American soldiers and annihilating 3 million Indochinese peasants beneath a driving rain of poison gas and shrapnel, Nixon and Kissinger just decided to pack it up and fuck off back to Wahington in 1973. The truth is that the only reason why that war ever fucking ended is because anti-imperialist minorities led a downright revolutionary campaign to fucking end it. We would still be in Danang as we speak, slinging dope and aiming nukes at China, if Blacks, Latinos, Queers and women hadn’t radicalized the Peace Movement and turned it into a veritable threat to national security.

Before Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, America’s antiwar movement was an ineffectual band of white milquetoast suburbanites strumming banjos and politely begging pitiless psychopaths to knock it off and give peace a chance. The Black Power Movement gave these longhairs fangs and taught them how to use them. Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King were some of the boldest voices among the pacifist milieu but it was the more militant splinter sect of his movement that first called out the war in Vietnam for what it truly was, naked racist imperialism, and declared their allegiance with the bombed.

The Black Power Movement was built on abandoning tedious partisan politics in favor of creating autonomous communities of Africans right here in America by expanding their awareness of their place in a larger global struggle against colonialism. This struggle didn’t just include other Africans engaged in liberating their continent from European oppressors, it included poor people who stood their ground beneath Western bombs wherever they dropped.

Just before he was savagely slain by federal government infiltrators, Malcolm X abandoned the reactionary Nation of Islam and called for the creation of an African American-led freedom movement defined by playing their part in a larger international struggle against colonialism. A couple of years later, under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee picked up Brother Malcolm’s torch and used it to broaden their revolutionary horizons by officially declaring themselves to be more than just another civil rights organization.

In 1967, the SNCC boldly redefined itself as a human rights organization committed first and foremost to supporting “struggles against colonialism, racism and economic exploitation wherever those conditions exist.” And then they picked up rifles and joined forces with the Black Panther Party and the shit really got wild. It was during this gunpowder baptism that the antiwar movement became the anti-imperialist movement.

But the Black Power Movement wasn’t alone. They may have represented the brightest spark in this nascent anti-imperialist movement, but it was actually women, especially women of color, who created some of the earliest and gnarliest racket against the empire’s bloodbath in Vietnam. Groups like the Women’s Strike for Peace and women like Gwen Patton who led the National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union didn’t just speak out against the war but brazenly declared their allegiance with the people who it was being waged against.

Patton declared the women who played a pivotal role in the Vietcong “sexy” and many early women’s libers saw the spectacle of Vietnamese mothers with their babies on their back and Kalashnikovs in their hands giving cigar chomping sexist thugs like General Curtis LeMay a run for their money as the perfect embodiment of female power, representing lethal strength through empathy, motherhood weaponized in defense of the children who were always the first to die in men’s wars.

And it was women who set the antiwar movement on fire, literally. The most revolutionary act a pacifist can comit is self-immolation and this brazen provocation was first imported to the United States by a badass bitch named Alice Herz in 1965. A Holocaust survivor and founding member of the Women’s Strike for Peace, Herz was inspired by the iconic self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monks like Thich Quang Due to literally set herself on fire for peace amidst the factories that built America’s arsenal in Downtown Detroit. She left behind only ashes and a searing letter declaring “Decide if this world shall be a good place to live for all human beings or if it should blow itself into oblivion.”

Bold Black women like Gwen Patton, Angela Davis and Elaine Brown backed their pacifist sisters up with arms and held the empire’s feet to Herz’s fire by the barrel of a gun. So did furious transwomen of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major and Sylvia Rivera who took the lessons they learned as part of the Black Power, Chicana and Women’s Movement’s and applied them to decolonizing Queer spaces like Stonewall by any means necessary.

These weren’t merely the actions of irate Queers against the police state. The Queer Liberation Movement was defined by its commitment to anti-imperialism from day one. It wasn’t a mere coincidence that the loudest gang of fist-swinging faggots to come out of the flames of Christopher Street called themselves the Gay Liberation Front. This was an homage to the Algerian National Liberation Front and the South Vietnam Liberation Front, as well as a message to the pigs that a new Queer nation had been born and that it stood defiantly with the people of the Third World.

Huey Newton himself recognized our potential, defending our fight amongst Panthers still hostile towards the Queer experience and declaring that Queer people “might be the most oppressed people” in society and therefore should be considered potentially “the most revolutionary.” Huey sharply saw the radical opportunity in weaponizing all oppression against his own people’s oppressors and turning this opportunity into what Frantz Fanon called an “immense tyranny destroying wave.”

Chicago Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton probably gave us the best example of what this wave might look like when he formed his Rainbow Coalition in 1969, which brought together the Puerto Ricans of the Young Lords, the Native Americans of the American Indian Movement, the Chicanos of the Brown Berets, the Chinese Americans of the Red Guard Party, and even the impoverished Southern whites of the Young Patriots Organization in a diverse coalition of militant identity political organizations united by the imperial enemy they shared with the people of Vietnam.

Even after that racist closet queen, J. Edna Hoover, had Freddy capped, this revolutionary virus spread. Suddenly white college kids were carrying Vietcong flags instead of daisies and organizations like the Weather Underground, the Youth International Party and the White Panthers were declaring their solidarity with the international tyranny destroying mission of Black Power. Soon, ROTC buildings across the country were going up in flames and even GIs were joining the revolution, fragging their commanding officers, refusing orders, sabotaging millions of dollars in equipment and launching uprisings in barracks across the globe.

The powers at be saw the storm clouds of revolution on the horizon. They pulled the plug on their genocidal war in Vietnam to save the empire from collapsing into the flames. It wasn’t just the Vietcong who kicked Uncle Sam’s ass, it was a revolutionary united front of Third World citizens stretching from Stonewall to Saigon. In 1975, the American Empire was defeated by identity politics.

So, the American Empire did what it does best, it colonized the problem. The Democratic Party enticed Black, brown and Queer people of every color to join their counter-revolutionary operation under two conditions; we forfeit our autonomy in exchange for tokens of bourgeoise assimilation, and we divorce our movements from the anti-imperialism that once defined them. By engaging in this Faustian bargain, we didn’t just neuter identity politics, we removed a downright personal commitment to destroying colonialism from the Antiwar Movement in the divorce, sending those poor honky breeders back to the milquetoast purgatory that we had liberated them from.

This is the part of the story where I tell you dearest motherfuckers that it’s not too late. Well, it’s not. The vision of tragically forgotten martyrs like Fred Hampton and Sylvia Rivera, a wild dream of a diverse coalition of identity outlaws united by our shared awareness that the empire which colonizes the Third World colonizes its fucked cousins back home as well, remains this world’s greatest hope for preventing an Ozymandias Century. If a bunch of thugs from the hood can end a war with a ragtag army of drag queens, rice farmers, cholos and dope smoking hicks then I see no reason why we can’t end them all with a new global Rainbow Coalition of Black militias, Antifa arsonists, Boogaloo Bois, Shia sectarians, Russian separatists, genderfuck evangelists, Kurdish autonomists and trailer park isolationists.

So, what do you say, dearest motherfuckers? Let’s get together and make this fight personal again before it’s too late. Let’s burn this classist, racist, sexist, homophobic, imperialist motherfucker down once and for all and dance in the flames like it’s 1975.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.